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SB 316: CA committee kills proposal to increase serial shoplifting penalty

Senator Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks) speaks during a March 28, 2023, hearing on SB 316.

By Phillip Pesola–
The California Senate’s Committee on Public Safety on Tuesday voted 3-1 against SB 316, a bill supported by the Citrus Heights City Council and others that sought to increase penalties for serial theft.

‌The Citrus Heights City Council earlier this month voted to approve a letter of support for the bill, in response to a request from the office of Senator Roger Niello (R-Fair Oaks), the bill’s author.

Related: Citrus Heights council votes 4-1 to support SB 316

SB 316 would have put a proposition on the November 2024 ballot, which, if passed by California voters, would have increased the penalty for petty theft to a felony if the offender had previously been convicted of three theft-related crimes. The bill sought to address a controversial component of Proposition 47, which was passed by voters in 2014 and reclassified certain felony crimes as misdemeanors, including shoplifting of property that does not exceed $950 in value.

During the March 28 hearing, Niello, the bill’s author, said the “current lack of sufficient penalties to deter serial theft has led to an onslaught of repeat offenders committing multiple petty theft violations recently.” He also cited a National Federation of Small Business poll where 89% of respondents supported repeal of Prop 47.

“We need actual consequences to [deter] repeat offenders and save our brick-and-mortar stores from collapse,” said Niello.

‌Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said he agreed retail theft is a “huge problem,” but voiced opposition to the bill, stating that misdemeanors like petty theft are already punishable under current laws by up to a year in county jail, which he said “is not a meaningless punishment.” Wiener instead said low police staff levels and consistency of enforcement of existing laws should be addressed, “so that these thieves understand that there will be a consequence.”

For comparison, Wiener said the threshold for felony shoplifting in Texas is $2,500, which he said is “dramatically higher than the higher amount that we raised it to with Prop 47.”

During public comment, four speakers showed up to voice support for the bill, while nine spoke in opposition. Another five speakers also called in to voice support, with most speakers representing various organizations.

‌At the conclusion of the hearing, the five-member Committee on Public Safety voted 3-1 against the bill, killing its chance of moving to the Senate floor. Senator Rosilicie Ochoa Bogh (R-Yucaipa) was the lone senator in support of the bill, while Wiener was joined by senators Aisha Wahab (D-Hayward) and Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley) in voting no. Senator Steven (D-Gardena) did not vote.

In a statement following the vote, Niello said he will continue advocating for reform of Proposition 47.

The roughly 25-minute hearing for SB 316 took place during the committee’s six-hour-long March 28 meeting, where several other bills were also heard. A recording of the meeting is available for viewing at the state senate’s website.

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